While the possibility of the "three-parent embryo" has gotten recent press in the U.K., and the U.S. government is also looking into the safety concerns over such a method that could eliminate the possibility of certain genetic conditions, there are some who consider its techniques highly similar to human cloning and say that its allowance would create a slippery slope.
Dr. David Prentice, a senior fellow for life sciences at Family Research Council, a conservative lobbying group, said Thursday that the creation of three-parent embryos involves much of the same techniques as cloning and noted that the scientists expressing interest in that field are the same ones conducting human cloning research.
"You're creating new individuals. You’re not even making a treatment for any existing individual, and it has little chance of success," said Prentice, who has a background in biochemistry and spent nearly two decades as a life sciences and medical and molecular genetics professor.
The creation of three-parent embryos and human cloning research, Prentice said at an event hosted by the Family Research Council, is "ethically troubling, very troubling."
He noted some safety issues that could come with obtaining enough eggs from women in order to conduct such research. One of these risks is ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome, which can be associated with bloating, kidney problems and shortness of breath. Some also linked egg donation with death.
"[It] uses them. [Women are] essentially as a factory so you can harvest their eggs so you can do the cloning and do your supposed treatments," Prentice said.
Prentice also noted how some research involves inserting human genes into animal cells, such as a cow or rabbit.
While some states have bans of varying degrees on human cloning research, the federal government currently does not allow the creation of a human embryo for research purposes, through any method, using tax dollars. Other countries, like France, Germany and Russia, ban human cloning all together, even for therapeutic, non-reproductive proposes. The United Nations General Assembly approved a declaration that called upon its member states to ban all forms of human cloning as well.
With these countries and the U.N. opposing human cloning, Prentice said it shows that it's not just something that "religious zealots" are against.
Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) believes the U.S. government should ban human cloning and is the lead sponsor of the Human Cloning Prohibition Act of 2012.
"We can gain all scientific knowledge we need from doing somatic cell nuclear transfer on non-human species," Dr. Harris, who is on the House appropriations committee, said. "This is almost a technique waiting a purpose, we don't know what the uses are."
Harris acknowledged that one of the possible advantages for this type of research is that the use of the cells from cloned human embryos could eliminate some of the rejection risk that can come with other types of cells or organs.
Instead of focusing on embryonic stem cells from cloned humans, Harris encouraged scientists to focus research on how to create and effectively use adult stem cells.
"You can do it without cloning," he said.
Without the passage of the legislation, Harris said "scientists will go ahead and clone humans. That’s just the way it is."
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